Lecture: Making Minorities — Wednesday, March 9

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The History Department and the Turkey Studies Research Cluster present

Janet Klein
Associate Professor of History, University of Akron

Making Minorities in the Late-Ottoman Period: Armenians and Kurds

Wednesday, March 9, 2016, 12:10 PM @ 126 Voorhies

Janet Klein is the author of The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone (Stanford University Press, 2011) and numerous other articles and book chapters. Her research is centered on state-society relations as well as nationalism, identity, and gender dynamics from a historical perspective, and her primary geographical area of focus—late-Ottoman Kurdistan—has served as a lens through which she explores wider issues that extend beyond this geography and period.

While more recent literature recognizes the construction of identities (instead of taking them as an age-old given) and also has gone far in nuancing and historicizing strife between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, the very concept of minority remains ahistorical, even in many recent and nuanced works. In the Ottoman context, non-Muslim groups are taken for granted as being minorities for periods long before the concept existed, and this has skewed our perception of the Ottoman past and identity construction even as scholars have offered important interventions. This paper explores how enmity between religious groups took on a dangerously different dimension with the evolution of the modern state and the development of a set of uneven power relations between European powers and the Ottomans in which a discourse surrounding minorities and new concepts of rights became elements in a wider global discourse on modernity, civilization, sovereignty, identity, citizenship, and power. This paper investigates the construction of minorities and citizens in the late-Ottoman period, and indeed the “routine violence” that Pandey (2006) has observed as being part of this process, by examining not just how the Ottoman state but also local Kurds in the Van region perceived foreign intervention on behalf of the Armenians. This paper draws on the experiences documented by Sadettin Pasha in his 1896 memoir that recounts the tensions between his mission to convince Kurds in the Van region that the Armenian reforms were in their best interests and his own ambivalence about the project. His memoir represents a microcosm of the larger issues explored in this paper—how foreigners, “the state,” and locals (Armenians and Kurds) perceived and participated in the construction of Armenians first, and later Kurds, as not just minorities, but as “marked citizens.”

Co-sponsored by Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Jewish Studies, the Institute for Social Sciences, the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, Political Science, and the Study of Religion Graduate Program.

klein_making_minorities_poster.pdf